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Bite Sized Practice
How joining the cult of peloton taught me something about getting started & keeping going
Over the course of the last year I’ve tried a lot of stuff. Running was one of the first big things I tried - it was, if you’ll recall, a way of getting out of the house I was unexpectedly sharing with my parents and sister after twelve years of living on my own. Through the summer and into the early fall I kept up with it, but when I got back to New York in September I stopped. Part of this is due to the fact that I didn’t have a beautiful swathe of shaded trails immediately outside my door; it’s significantly less fun to stop and start for traffic on the way to a park that is intensely crowded with other people trying to escape their tiny apartments.
In October, my sister and I took delivery of the most easily-mockable piece of exercise equipment you can imagine: our very own Peloton. I won’t belabor the many things that are creepy about the Peloton (why is there a camera on the bike, for example?) but this morning, as I wound down from my workout with a ten minute stretching video provided by the Peloton app, I had a little epiphany:
The peloton model of exercise is a perfect way to approach building a writing routine.
Back in October, I’d taken maybe two spin classes in my life. I’d hated most group classes I’d taken up to that point: You’re in a room filled with strangers. The room is often hot. If it’s new-to-you exercise, it’s impossible to get into a good flow, because half of your attention is devoted to trying to get the moves right and not hurt yourself, and the other half is worried about looking like a tool in front of all these people who undoubtedly already know how to do the thing you are just learning to do. “You” being very much “me” in this instance. You have also paid for this privilege.
When we got this ludicrously expensive piece of exercise equipment all set up and shiny in our guest room/office/library/now also exercise room, I was very intimidated. I have a tendency to dive in, overcommit, and then be overwhelmed by what I’ve committed to and then taper off. (This will not be unfamiliar to those who have stuck with this cursèd newsletter for this long.) But those clever devils at Peloton know more about me than I care to admit, and they don’t want you to resent the overlarge piece of exercise equipment in your living room, or have it slowly turn into a place to hang wet laundry. They want you to use it, and pay for their app, and buy a new model when yours inevitably breaks down.
And how do they overcome the initial hesitance? The tendency to overcommit? How do they help you build a habit?
The answer: they have classes that are as short as five minutes long.
Now, I don’t know anything about fitness, so I can’t tell you if the five minute classes are aerobically effective. But what they did do was get me used to being on the bike. I started out with these little warmups, and then moved into the second genius move on their part: the six week intro. They have a whole program of classes from different instructors that build up your endurance over the course of six weeks. For the first three weeks, no class is longer than 20 minutes, and there aren’t more than two or three “workouts” a week. It’s brilliant. Obviated was my need to start with a 45 minute HIIT class that would leave me unable to walk for a week. Instead, it was a sensible and gradual introduction to the activity that I was able to build on over time.
So many authors I’ve spoken to over the course of my time in publishing (and now, publishing-adjacent) think that they need huge swathes of time to write in, just the way I wanted huge swathes of trail to run on. You don’t need three hours a day to do your work. You don’t need an hour a day to write a novel in six months. It’d be nice, but that’s not the way most of us live. But five minutes on your notes app or on a post-it while waiting for a boring meeting to begin can slowly, over time, build up your practice until you’re able to either carve out more time or do more in the short periods of time you do have.
If you’ve been putting off getting started writing because you think you don’t have enough time, I encourage you to try this approach. Write what you can when you can where you can. Even if that’s only once a week; any time spent in front of your page where words are produced is good time spent. Nicole Dieker, a blogger I’ve been following for a while, recently wrote about something she calls “unlimited time;” the idea that though our actual lives are finite and obviously deadlines are a thing that exist in the world, you can practice something as many times as you want, for as long and short as you want. So you may only be able to do something for five minutes, but you have many days and period in which to find five minutes to practice in.
So, start where you are, not where you’d like to be. Remove the goalposts altogether. Destroy the idea of daily word count, pulp speed, even NaNoWriMo if it helps you. Take the time you can where you can and let the rest take care of itself. And maybe go outside, even if you don’t have a trail nearby. Chances are it’s a pretty nice day.
So, obviously every time I make a promise about how often I’m going to update this thing I end up failing hard and not meeting a single one of my self-imposed deadlines. What I’ve decided to do going forward, until such time as I’ve actually made this a regular thing, is remove the paid option. Thank you to everyone who supported this newsletter through the subscription services. I hope you’ll stick around for the free edition.
For those of you who would like a refund on the subscriptions you’ve paid for so far, you can reply to this email and I’ll refund you.
If you would still like to financially support the newsletter, I’ve opened up a ko-fi, which is basically an internet tip jar. The link for that is here.
I announced back in December 2020 that I’ve hung out a shingle as a freelance editor. For now, Reedsy is the best way to approach me; I’m offering editorial assessment and developmental edit services. It’s been enormously rewarding be able to keep my hand in and still engage with story and with writers.
If there’s something you’d like me to talk about in this newsletter - writing, reading, process, craft, hockey, books, TV, whatever - please leave a comment and/or reply to this and let me know!
(FORMER) CLIENT NEWS
K.M. Szpara’s novel First, Become Ashes is out this week! Greta Kelly’s Frozen Crown came out in January, as did C.M. Waggoner’s A Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry! Chelsea Summers’ widely-praised debut A Certain Hunger came out in December!
THIS WEEK IN HOCKEY
I honestly have no idea. I feel real weird about following sports right now, but that hasn’t stopped me from joining two new-to-me fantasy teams. I do know that in March Mika Zabenijad and P.K. Subban took a turn about the room, and Handsome Man Jack Campbell is currently breaking records for rookie goalie win streaks (seen at the top of this post with Mitch Marner.)
Graham Greene’s Dark Heart by Joan Acocella (New Yorker)
"The dog, Graham’s sister’s pug, had just been run over, and the nanny couldn’t think of how to get the carcass home other than to stow it in the carriage with the baby. If that doesn’t suffice to set the tone for the rather lurid events of Greene’s life, one need only turn the page, to find him, at five or so, watching a man run into a local almshouse to slit his own throat. Around that time, Greene taught himself to read, and he always remembered the cover illustration of the first book to which he gained admission. It showed, he said, ‘a boy, bound and gagged, dangling at the end of a rope inside a well with water rising above his waist.''
I hate Nadia beyond reason by Patricia Lockwood (London Review of Books)
"Do you understand what a pleasure it is not to have to begin with this little biographical section? Sometimes a writer goes to school somewhere, and you have to know which years. Sometimes a writer gets married three times, or is a sex freak, or stabs people at parties. The cry BUT WE DON’T KNOWWHO ELENA FERRANTE IS, EXCEPT FOR THOSE OF US WHO LOOKED UP HER REAL ESTATE RECORDS! is met from me only with the words: ‘Thank God.’ I am tired of knowing who people are."
Why Americans Love Giant Closets by Amanda Mull (The Atlantic)
"Since then, with the help of ever-cheaper clothes, more and more Americans have sought to follow Carrie’s lead. The closet has transformed both spatially and spiritually, from cramped afterthought to personal sanctuary. At the very high end, closets can span multiple rooms and comprise a near-limitless set of amenities—vanities, desks, wet bars. They can even bear an uncanny resemblance to boutiques. As shopping continues to shift online, the ultimate luxury might be building a store of your own."
Of a Bigness: Interview with the Big Ship that is Ruining the Ocean for Egypt. A World-Class Writer and a World-Class Freeloader. The unspeakable personal tragedy that inspired Tomas Vinterberg’s Another Round. What fuels a fanatical sports parent? Merit, Access, and Swordsmanship. When Elvis Presley was a Shabbos Goy.
This has been A Faster No, a dispatch on publishing, writing, books, and beyond.